Understanding the Difference between Documentary Photography and Lifestyle Photography:

The photojournalist is a person who sees through a different set of eyes, the eyes of the heart, the eyes of history, to capture something that is forever.
— John White

Let me first start by saying that one isn’t better than the other, one isn’t more beautiful, or more difficult, or more appealing. I think they both have qualities that will appeal to people for differing reasons.

Personally, through my growth and progression as a photographer, documentary photography has become my safe place. It’s where I find the most beauty, the most challenge to my creative spirit. I started out doing traditional portraits, families, weddings, etc. But when I started shooting births, a part of my soul was ignited and an insatiable need to capture the REAL took flight. There is no posing, or choreographing a woman in labor. The birth space is such a sacred place, I dare not disturb a laboring mother by directing a moment. And I think for the most part it’s obvious to the common viewer that birth is monumental. The photos are soul stirring. They are profound.

What I wish the common viewer could see, is that each day of our mundane lives is monumental. Soul stirring. Profound. I wanted to take the same passion that is captured the moment a family is born, the moment a first breath is taken… and reflect that passion as you navigate life with that same baby, who is now a toddler, a child, a preteen, or a parent themselves.

So let me dig deeper and tell you the difference between documentary and lifestyle.


I’ll walk you through a typical documentary session. Prior to arriving we have discussed what part of your day you want captured. Usually it revolves around a predetermined event: Baking cookies, bathtime/bedtime stories, camping in the backyard, grocery shopping, etc. It can be something that you literally do everyday, or a special day like the first day of school. I show up, we chat over a cup of tea, hang out, break the ice, show me around, and then you start your day. I’m a fly on the wall. I do not direct, intervene, or pose. I do not tell you what to do, or where to stand. And why is that SO important in a documentary session?! Because the whole point of these shoots is to capture your day as it TRULY is. Not some fabricated, and polished version. What good does that do you when you look back on these 20-30 years from now to remember how these days really looked, if it isn’t captured authentically. Yes your house is messy, will I move the stray Lego brick from the floor before we start shooting? Most definitely not. That stray Lego tells a very important part of your story. Will I photoshop the crayon streak off of the wall in the kitchen? Nope, that sweet artwork may be priceless one day. Don’t be afraid of the blemishes, of the imperfections of your house, of your life… there is so much history, and story behind those tiny details. Savor them, EMBRACE them, for one day, in a blink, they’re gone.

LIFESTYLE: (Disclaimer, I no longer shoot Lifestyle sessions)

Now let me walk you through a typical lifestyle session. Everything up until the moment of shooting is exactly the same as I mentioned above. The shoot revolves around some kind of event, we chat, we break the ice… but now’s where it takes a different turn. Lifestyle is the polished and pretty version of what I spoke about above. I will tell you where to sit/stand in your bedroom, I will turn on lights, gently direct you on where to turn your head, and look etc. In a nutshell, things are POSED to look like they AREN’T posed. You sit lovingly on your clean perfectly made bed, maybe your outfits are coordinated, maybe I tell you to have a tickle fight, or let your kids jump on the bed. But 90% of what happens during a lifestyle session is directed and orchestrated to look organic. I will move that lego, I will photoshop that left over PBJ off your kiddos face. Because that’s what lifestyle is to me at least. Polished.

Give me the messy any day. Give me the real any day. Give me the snotty faces, tiny hand smudges on the windows, give me the mom top-bun and yoga pants you so beautifully and effortlessly pull off.

I mean think of the stress you put yourself under to get polished up for your family photos, the outfits you buy, the stress over will your kids behave, is the house clean, did I put away the laundry? Hello! None of that matters, bring it! Leave the stress at the door and embrace your beautiful life!

I don’t mean to sound bias on one or the other. I’ve done both for years and I’ve captured beautiful on both sides of the argument. BUT my heart longs for documenting the real. The more we show other mothers, other families the realness of our lives, the more we can encourage and normalize what parenthood really looks like. None of us are perfect, or polished. None of us really have it figured out, and definitely don’t have it all together. And per every mother of grown children, we will miss the noise, we will miss the messes, we will miss the mounds of tiny clothes that need folding, or the sippy cups that litter the sink, or the muddy soccer cleats left in the hallway. My friends, THESE are the details of our lives. Let them be told.

Find the beauty in your everyday, and rock the mess out of it!

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columbus, ga photographer

Specializing in Family, Birth, & Commercial Photography